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Harvard University

The Architectural Imagination

Harvard University via edX


Architecture engages a culture’s deepest social values and expresses them in material, aesthetic form. This course will teach you how to understand architecture as both cultural expression and technical achievement. Vivid analyses of exemplary buildings, and hands-on exercises in drawing and modeling, will bring you closer to the work of architects and historians.

The first part of the course introduces the idea of the architectural imagination. Perspective drawing and architectural typology are explored and you will be introduced to some of the challenges in writing architectural history.

Then we address technology as a component of architecture. You will discover ways that innovative technology can enable and promote new aesthetic experiences, or disrupt age-old traditions. Technological advances changed what could be built, and even what could even be thought of as architecture.

Finally, we'll confront architecture’s complex relationship to its social and historical contexts and its audiences, achievements, and aspirations. You will learn about architecture’s power of representation and see how it can produce collective meaning and memory.

Architecture is one of the most complexly negotiated and globally recognized cultural practices, both as an academic subject and a professional career. Its production involves all of the technical, aesthetic, political, and economic issues at play within a given society. Join us as we examine how architecture engages, mediates, and expresses a culture’s complex aspirations.

This course is eligible for American Institute of Architects (AIA) continuing education units (CEUs). Enroll in the course to learn more about options for earning credit.


Part I: Form and History

  • Module 1: The Architectural Imagination: An Introduction
  • Module 2: Reading Architecture: Column and Wall
  • Module 3: Hegel and Architectural History
  • Module 4: Aldo Rossi and Typology

Part II: The Technology Effect

  • Module 5: The Crystal Palace: Infrastructure and Detail
  • Module 6: The Dialectics of Glass and Steel
  • Module 7: Technology Tamed: Le Corbusier’s Machines for Living

Part III: Representation and Context

  • Module 8: Drawing Utopia: Visionary Architecture of the 18th Century
  • Module 9: The Pompidou Center in the City of Paris
  • Module 10: Presenting the Unrepresentable

Taught by

K. Michael Hays, Erika Naginski and Antoine Picon


3.8 rating, based on 14 Class Central reviews

4.7 rating at edX based on 103 ratings

Start your review of The Architectural Imagination

  • I loved this course - I've never really understood what the term "architecture" means beyond making a building that won't fall down, and here I got some glimmer of the additional nuances that result both from cultural attitudes and from function. I…
  • Anonymous
    I'm a fairly intelligent individual, however the words used seemed to be big for the sake of being big not for the sake of clarity. It only confused me more. I had to go back through each sentence two or three times just to parse what he was saying. I understand a lot of this is theory rather than practice so it is a little more abstract. However I couldn't finish the course because I didn't want to try and figure out what he was saying. The material and concepts weren't inherently that difficult, it was that he made it harder than it had to be. I also felt like I wasn't learning much, I would much rather rent an architecture 101 book.

    I will not be continuing this course.
  • Anonymous
    This course is very heavy going. I’ve been really trying hard to understand what is being explained and I’ve come to the conclusion that it is unexplainable because it makes no sense unless you just swallow it whole just as it is. And I’m talking as someone who works with buildings on adialy basis for 20 years.
    The sad thing is that this kind of teaching is going on in every architectural school. This has nothing to do with making or understanding good buildings, it’s just theory.
  • I took this course two years ago when I was attending the fourth year of Architecture, and although it might be a bit hard to understand sometimes (I’m not a native English speaker) I thought it was really good, it is an introduction to architecture, a different point of view of this field, at least compared to what I’ve learnt in my country. I learned new things, but also saw things that I was already familiar with. I think it was great, it was the first MOOC I took, and thanks to this I’ve taken many more.
  • Anonymous
    Incredible and inspiring course with very high production value. It uses case studies of specific architectural projects and individuals to demonstrate various points of emphasis on the subject matter and manages to cross a wide breadth from the concrete to the philosophical and theoretical in a very efficient course.

    I personally hope for an expanded series of courses to continue this approach across other projects, architects, and developments in the field.
  • Anonymous
    An interesting subject with clear content and structure as well as excellent resources and readings. The videos were informative and professionally executed. A strong course overall.
  • Anonymous
    This course is fantastic! I have a profound love for architecture, but I never really went into the details of it. This course is teaching much more than just the basic construction; it teaches design, perspective, history, and the abstract concepts of fundamental architecture. I'm only in high school, trying to pass the time, and this course is beneficial. I do recommend buying the certificate for this course as well.
  • Anonymous
    Unbalanced and propagandist approach about dinosaur orthodox architectural philosophy. The courses content has been largely proven as being historically inaccurate and revisionist of the subjects they reference. For an introductory architecture course the subjects are extremely limited.
  • Sidney Adam Harper
    Professor Michael Hays is simply brilliant so is Prof. Erika Naginski. I enjoyed every single class immensely. An amazing incite into dynamic world of creation, creativity and understanding. Awesome! Thank you.
  • Anonymous
    The Architectural Imagination is one of the greatest basic architectural course conducting by Harvard team. At present I'm taking the course and I'm very much impressed. Love Harvard edX from Sri Lanka.
  • Emmanuel Eduful
    I love this course and it’s helpful it has a good terms and very good learning providers such as its capabilities and skills I really love it informations
  • Bekbosunova Aizada
    My name is Bekbosunova Aizada.I study at school 11 form.I study a very well.I am from Kyrgyzstan.I wanna study and learn this is course.I think this course bring me a new knowledge.I wanna help world and save our planet.
  • Profile image for Pambili Sinxoto
    Pambili Sinxoto
    I liked the course, it offered insight into the world of architectural design giving perspective to everyday problems and challenges
  • Anonymous
    Espero que seja um bom curso, quero ampliar meu campo de conhecimento, e poder assim crescer profissionalmente. Tenho fome de conhecimento, quero saber mais, saber de tudo, conhecer, aprender, ensinar, conhecimento é poder, e eu quero ser poderosa, quero conhecer culturas, conhecer pessoas, ter a oportunidade de mudar o mundo para um país melhor, ainda não posso fazer muito, mas logo eu acredito que vou poder, e com esse curso eu acredito que vai ser um passo grande em para o que eu quero, obrigada aos colaboradores, obrigada por esse curso gratuito, sou imensamente grata por essa oportunidade de aprender!

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